The Olympic motto is to “build a better world through sport.” Liu Xiang of China with his fellow hurdlers Turner and Quinonez exemplify this motto. Liu’s performance and the assistance he received from Turner and Quinonez during the 2012 Olympics is my favorite London Olympic moment. Many may be shocked that an athlete falling during a race would be a favorite Olympic moment. But, there is much more to the story.
The 29-year-old Liu Xiang is from Shanghai, China. Liu had become something of a legend in China as he became Asia’s first male Olympic track champion in the Athen’s Olympics in 2004. He won China’s first Olympic gold medal for track and field. In 2008 in the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese had great hopes again for a gold medal through Liu. However, Liu developed an Achilles tendon injury before that Olympics began. That injury prevented him from not only missing gold in Beijing but actually from seriously competing. Fast forward to recently, where despite his lingering issues with the Achilles tendon, Liu reached the World Finals in 2011 and won a silver medal. His performance in May and June of this year with a 12.97 seconds and a 12.87 seconds finish, respectively, had China hoping again.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Only seconds after the starting gun, Liu’s foot caught the first hurdle and he went down hard. But what came next was not typical. Although other runners had fallen during this Olympics (and I remember one such crushed athlete who knelt down on the track, crying, pounding the ground in despair), Liu reacted much differently. He initially sat on the ground, trying mightily to endure the pain. As Chinese commentators were stunned into silence or were sobbing (as could be heard in the background), Liu, then got up. Despite being in obvious pain, he hobbled to the finish line, stopping to kiss the last hurdle. What powerful symbolism were those moments. This may be Liu’s last Olympics and what grace, class and love for his sport he demonstrated.
What happened as Liu left the field also was classy and demonstrated the Olympic values of Excellence, Respect and particularly the value of Friendship. Andy Turner of Great Britain won the heat and afterwards stated, “I regard him [Liu] as probably the best hurdler in history and have so much respect for him. It was horrible seeing him limp off like that, so you have to go and help people.” Andy Turner and fellow hurdler Spain’s Jackson Quinonez met Liu at the finish line; each took one of Liu’s arms and then assisted Liu off of the track and into a wheelchair.
What an outstanding example of “building a better world through sport.”